Commentary Magazine


Reid Tries to Save Liberals from Themselves

President Obama and Senator Dianne Feinstein are not happy with Harry Reid. The feeling is mutual. And no one is hiding it very well. The three Democratic leaders are reacting to the announcement that Feinstein’s ban on certain so-called “assault weapons” will not be included in the final Senate gun-control bill and will not be voted on. The assault-weapons ban was always going to end this way; the votes were never there for it.

And while Feinstein believes she was promised a vote and Obama isn’t thrilled about elevating this issue only to have it bow to political reality, there is something disingenuous in focusing their ire on Reid. After all, Reid’s strategy of grinding the Senate to a halt, locking out the opposition from getting votes or amendments, and obstructing even basic Senate business and responsibilities has always been about protecting Democrats from having to vote on their very unpopular, ill-considered policy ideas that the voters would surely hate.

In other words, fully aware of the absurdity of the Democratic policy agenda, Reid’s leadership has always been geared toward saving liberals from themselves–and the voters. And that is exactly what he’s doing on the gun bill. What’s more, while the White House says it’s not giving up on the ban, Reid is telling them to drop it. The Washington Post reports on Reid’s admission that a possible Republican filibuster of the bill is not the cause of its demise:

Reid (D-Nev.) is preparing to move ahead with debate on a series of gun-control proposals when the Senate returns from a two-week Easter recess in early April. Although he has vowed to hold votes on measures introduced after the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in Newtown, Conn., in December, Reid told reporters Tuesday that the proposed assault-weapons ban isn’t holding up against Senate rules that require at least 60 votes to end debate and move to final passage.

The proposed ban, “using the most optimistic numbers, has less than 40 votes. That’s not 60,” Reid said.

No, 40 is not 60. More importantly, it’s not 50, which means a straight up-or-down vote on the assault weapons ban would see Democrats knock the bill down. That’s Reid’s message to the White House (and to Feinstein). Reid doesn’t want to force Democrats to vote on the gun ban because the ensuing result would be both more damaging to the Democratic Party and more embarrassing for the White House, as enough Democrats went on record opposing the ban to publicly reject the president.

Obama may bristle at getting a brushback pitch from Reid, but electorally this strategy is better than the approach taken by Nancy Pelosi in the House. Reid represents a moderate state that leans conservative on some issues (like guns), which tempers his Senate leadership with a measure of reality. Not so with Pelosi. She hails from a very liberal district in the liberal state of California. The legislative agenda that comes out of the leftmost fringe of a Democratic Party already without moderates makes life even more difficult for lawmakers who aren’t as liberal as Pelosi. As such, when Democrats had the majority in the House and Pelosi served as speaker, she forced the House to vote on bills that were sure to go nowhere in the Senate and never be enacted but which put them on record in support of bad policy. That was the case, for example, with the cap-and-trade global warming bill back in 2009.

“We passed transformational legislation which takes us into the future,” Pelosi said after voting on legislation everyone knew would never become law. The following November, as Democrats approached a shellacking in the midterm elections, the New York Times reported that “House Democrats are bracing for tough losses across the country today, and the controversial cap-and-trade climate bill is sure to be part of any post-election analysis.” The Times added that the bill “has haunted” those who voted for it.

So the White House and Feinstein may want to lay off Reid. But they’re not. The Post adds:

White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough said in an interview with CNN on Tuesday that Senate Democrats’ decision is not a setback for Obama’s gun-control efforts. He said that the bill can still be brought up as an amendment and that there should be a concerted effort to pass it.

“We’re going to work on this. We’re going to find the votes,” McDonough said, according to a transcript. “It deserves a vote, and let’s see if we can get it done.”

The Times reports that Feinstein is “angry” over the exclusion of the gun ban. But that anger is misdirected. There are two parties in the U.S. Congress, and neither of them wants the gun ban. Most of the Senate Democrats seem to have learned a lesson from the 2010 midterms, even if Obama and Feinstein have not.

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